Teenie Hodges, Soul Guitarist and Songwriter, Dies at 68
Teenie Hodges, a guitarist and songwriter whose lithe touch on songs by Al Green and others helped shape the sound of Memphis soul in the 1970s, died on Sunday in Dallas. He was 68.
The cause was complications of emphysema, his daughter Sheila said.
Along with his brothers Leroy, on bass guitar, and Charles, on organ, Mr. Hodges was part of the celebrated house band at Hi Records in Memphis starting in the late ’60s. Distinguishing themselves from the raw style of Stax, the city’s pre-eminent soul label at the time, Hi and the producer Willie Mitchell developed a jazzier and more languid approach that still had grit and rhythmic punch.
Mr. Hodges was crucial to that sound. His warm, loosely strummed chords and gently strutting funk on Mr. Green’s classic songs like “Let’s Stay Together” and “Tired of Being Alone” made him a connoisseur’s favorite, and helped establish the Hi players as one of the premier studio teams in R&B, on par with the Funk Brothers at Motown, Stax’s regular group and the players at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala.
Mr. Hodges was also a frequent songwriting collaborator of Mr. Green’s. Among the hits they wrote together are “Love and Happiness” and “Take Me to the River,” which has also been recorded by Talking Heads, Bryan Ferry, Etta James and many others.
The Hi band — which in addition to the Hodges brothers included the drummers Howard Grimes and Al Jackson — also played on records by Syl Johnson, Ann Peebles and O. V. Wright. In 1976 the group, under the name Hi Rhythm Section, made its own record, “On the Loose,” with the musicians also performing vocal parts, but it sold poorly.
Mabon Lewis Hodges was born on Nov. 16, 1945, in Germantown, Tenn., a suburb of Memphis. One of 12 children, he grew up adoring Delta blues, and by age 12 he was playing guitar in his father’s blues band, the Germantown Blue Dots. While still a teenager he was taken under the wing of Mr. Mitchell, then known as a trumpeter and bandleader with a sophisticated style and a contract with Hi Records.
Mr. Hodges — whose brothers gave him his nickname on account of his height — quickly became an in-demand guitarist in Memphis, playing on Sam and Dave’s “I Take What I Want,” released by Stax in 1965. (Mr. Hodges also received a co-writing credit on that song, along with Stax’s house writers Isaac Hayes and David Porter.) By the late ’60s Mr. Mitchell had begun to devote himself to producing, with the Hi band taking shape around him.
The group remained intact through most of the ’70s, but began to splinter after Hi was sold in 1977. Around that time Mr. Green, the label’s star, abandoned secular music for gospel, although he reunited occasionally with Mr. Mitchell and the Hi band over the years. Mr. Mitchell died in 2010.
Mr. Hodges and his brothers continued playing through the ’80s and ’90s with blues and R&B musicians like Albert Collins and Otis Clay. In 2006 Mr. Hodges reached a new audience when he was a featured performer on “The Greatest,” an acclaimed album recorded in Memphis by the indie-rock singer and songwriter Chan Marshall, who performs as Cat Power.
In addition to his daughter Sheila, Mr. Hodges’s survivors include five other daughters, Cheri, Velencia, Shonte, Tabitha and Inga; two sons, Reginald and Mabon II; and nine siblings, including Leroy and Charles. The popular rapper Drake, whose real name is Aubrey Graham, is a nephew of Mr. Hodges’s.
Decades after his recordings with Mr. Green, Mr. Hodges remained something of a hero to fellow musicians. Boo Mitchell, a grandson of Willie Mitchell who inherited his studio, recalled a recent recording session in which well-known players like Boz Scaggs, Spooner Oldham and Ray Parker Jr. all quizzed Mr. Hodges about guitar trivia on songs like “Love and Happiness” and reached for their smartphones to record his impromptu guitar lesson.
“That guitar at the beginning of ‘Love and Happiness’ — guitar players all over the world still try to play that riff,” Boo Mitchell said this week, “but nobody plays it like Teenie.”
Correction: June 26, 2014
An earlier version of this obituary misspelled the given names of two of Mr. Hodges’s daughters. They are Cheri and Velencia, not Sheri and Valencia.
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